Ozzy Osbourne Sets Feb. 21 Release for Ordinary Man; Preorders up Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

I’ll admit I’m somewhat back and forth on the prospect of the new Ozzy record. Of course, it’s the first one in a decade, so that in itself is an event considering he is who is he is. There have been a few songs put out, and I haven’t listened to the title-track of Ordinary Man yet — I’ll get there — but both “Straight to Hell” and “Under the Graveyard” are maddeningly catchy. If it’s the best Ozzy Osbourne since Ozzmosis — which seems like a realistic best-case-scenario, as his earliest solo work is just never going to be topped and I think we all know it — well, that was 25 years ago, so that’s not nothing, right?

At the same time, the use of “defecate” in “Straight to Hell” is laughable and the video for “Under the Graveyard” looks like a treatment for one of the new generation of bio pics à la James Brown, Freddie Mercury and Elton John — can David Bowie be far behind? — so it’s not like either one comes without its hitch. Still, L.A.-type guitar prodigy/producer Andrew Watt seems to have done a good job reinvigorating Ozzy‘s signature style, which was nothing if not ripe for a reboot. I’d go see the tour if I was cool enough to get a photo pass, which I don’t think I am. So it goes.

Anywho, Ordinary Man is out Feb. 21 on Epic and preoders are up. Here’s some info and the songs that are currently available from it:

ozzy osbourne ordinary man

OZZY OSBOURNE’S ‘ORDINARY MAN’ SET FOR FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21 RELEASE ON EPIC RECORDS

ALBUM WAS RECORDED IN LOS ANGELES WITH ANDREW WATT, DUFF MCKAGAN AND CHAD SMITH

SPECIAL GUESTS INCLUDE ELTON JOHN, POST MALONE, SLASH AND TOM MORELLO

ORDINARY MAN AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FRIDAY, JANUARY 10, 2020

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy®-winning singer and songwriter OZZY OSBOURNE has set Friday, February 21 as the release date for his new ORDINARY MAN album. Marking his first new solo music in almost 10 years, the album has been preceded by the release of two singles, the title #1 rock track “Under The Graveyard,” which was followed by “Straight To Hell” featuring Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. The album’s track will be available instantly with any pre-order of the album. Pre-order the album here: https://ozzy.lnk.to/OrdinaryMan

ORDINARY MAN will be available as a standard CD, deluxe CD, black vinyl, deluxe gatefold swirl color vinyl, picture disc and digital album. In addition, all physical copies of the album will include a unique code that will allow the purchaser to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win one of over 300 OZZY prizes (including an official OZZY laminate to get into any show on the 2020 “NO MORE TOURS 2,” meet and greets with OZZY, a gift certificate to the OZZY global store and much more!) All details on the sweepstakes can be found at www.ozzy.com.

“It was a lot of fun to do though it’s a lot different from my other albums,” OZZY says of the album. “We recorded it quickly, which I haven’t done since the first Black Sabbath album. This made it a different process, which I actually enjoyed.”

Recorded in Los Angeles, the album features producer Andrew Watt on guitars, Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses) on bass and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums. Beyond the core band, ORDINARY MAN, features a who’s-who of OZZY friends and collaborators including Elton John, Post Malone, and Tom Morello.

“It all just came together,” OZZY explains of the guest stars. “Slash is a dear friend of mine, as is Elton. When I was writing ‘Ordinary Man,’ it reminded me of an old Elton song and I said to Sharon, ‘I wonder if he would sing on it?’ We asked and lo and behold, he agreed and sings and play piano on the song.”

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Ozzy Osbourne, “Ordinary Man”

Ozzy Osbourne, “Straight to Hell” official video

Ozzy Osbourne, “Under the Graveyard” official video

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Quarterly Review: Sunn O))), Crypt Sermon, The Neptune Power Federation, Chron Goblin, Ethereal Riffian, Parasol Caravan, Golden Core, Black Smoke Omega, Liquid Orbit, Sun Below

Posted in Reviews on January 10th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Hey all, we made it to the final day of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review, so congrats to ‘us’ and by us I mean myself and anyone still reading, which is probably about two or three people. On my end today is completely manic in terms of real-life, offline logistics — much to do — but no way I’m letting one last batch of 10 reviews fall by the wayside, so rest assured, by the time this goes live, it’ll be complete, even though I’ve had to swap things out as some stuff has been locked into other coverage since I first slated it. Plenty around waiting to be written up. Perpetually, it would seem.

But before we dive in, thank you for reading if you’ve caught any part of this QR. I hope your 2020 is off to an excellent start and that finding new music to love is as much a part of your next 12 months as it can possibly be.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Sunn O))), Pyroclasts

sunn o pyroclasts

The narrative — because of course there’s a narrative; blessings and peace upon it — is that drone-metal progenitors Sunn O))), while in the studio recording earlier-2019’s Life Metal (review here) with Steve Albini, began each day doing a 12-minute improvised modal drone working in a different scale. They used a stopwatch to keep time. Thus the four tracks of Pyroclasts were born. They all hover around 11 minutes after editing, which settles neatly onto two vinyl sides, and it’s the rawer vision of Sunn O))), with just Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley‘s guitars, rather than some of the more elaborate arrangements which they’ve been known to undertake. That they’d put out two studio records in the same year is striking considering it had been four years since 2015’s Kannon (review here), but I think the truth of the matter is they had these tapes and decided they were worth preserving with a popular release. I wouldn’t say they were wrong, and the immersion here is a good reminder of the core appeal of Sunn O)))‘s conjured depths.

Sunn O))) on Bandcamp

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Crypt Sermon, The Ruins of Fading Light

Crypt Sermon The Ruins of Fading Light

Traditional doom rarely sounds as vital as it does in the hands of Crypt Sermon. The Philly five-piece return with The Ruins of Fading Light on Dark Descent Records as an awaited follow-up to 2015’s Out of the Garden (review here) and thereby bring forth classic metal with all the urgency of thrash and the poise of the NWOBHM. Frontman Brooks Wilson — also responsible for the album art — is in command here and with the firm backing of bassist Frank Chin and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga, guitarists Steve Jannson and James Lipczynski offer sharpened-axe riffs and solo scorch offset by passages of keyboard for an all the more epic vibe. The rolling “Christ is Dead” is pure Candlemass, but the galloping “The Snake Handler” might be the highlight of the 10-track/55-minute run, though that’s not to take away either from the Dehumanizer chug of “Key of Solomon” or the melodic reach of the closing title-track either. Take your pick, really. It’s all metal as fuck and glorious for that. If they don’t sell denim jackets, they should.

Crypt Sermon on Thee Facebooks

Dark Descent Records on Bandcamp

 

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen

the neptune power federation memoirs of a rat queen

“Can you dig what the Imperial Priestess is laying down?” is the central question of Memoirs of a Rat Queen, the first album from Sydney, Australia’s The Neptune Power Federation to be released through Cruz Del Sur Music, and it arrives over an ELO “Don’t Bring Me Down”-style arena rock beat on leadoff “Can You Dig?” as an intro to the rest of the LP. Strange, epic, progressive, traditional, heavy and cascading rock and roll follows, as intricate as it is immediately catchy, and whether it’s “Watch Our Masters Bleed” or “I’ll Make a Man out of You,” the Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch and company make it easy to answer in the affirmative. Arrangements are willfully over the top as “Bound for Hell” and “The Reaper Comes for Thee” engage a heavy rocker take on heavy metal’s legacy, maddened laughter and all in the latter track, which closes, and the affect on the listener is nothing less than an absolute blast — a reminder of the empowering sound of early metal on a disaffected generation in the late ’70s and early ’80s and how that same fist-pump-against-the-world has become timeless. No doubt the costumes and all that make The Neptune Power Federation striking live, but as Memoirs of a Rat Queen readily steps forward to prove, the songs are there as well.

The Neptune Power Federation on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music on Bandcamp

 

Chron Goblin, Here Before

chron goblin here before

Have Chron Goblin been here before? The title of their album speaks to a kind of creepy deja vu feeling, and that’s emblematic of the Canadian band’s move away from the party rock of their past offerings, their last LP having been Backwater (review here) 2015. Fortunately, while they seek out some new aesthetic ground, the 11 tracks of Here Before do maintain Chron Goblin‘s penchant for straight-ahead songcraft and unpretentious execution — and frankly, that wasn’t at all broken. Neither, perhaps was the let’s-get-drunk-and-bounce-around spirit of their prior work, but they sound more mature in a song like the six-minute “Ghost” and “Slipping Under” (premiered here) successfully melds the shift in presentation with the energy of their prior output. Maybe it’s still a party but we watch horror movies? I don’t know. They’ve still got “Giving in to Fun” early in the tracklisting — worth noting it follows the swaying “Oblivion” — so maybe I’m misreading the whole thing, or maybe it’s more complex than being entirely one thing or the other might allow for. Perish the thought. Either way, can’t mess with the songs.

Chron Goblin on Thee Facebooks

Chron Goblin on Bandcamp

 

Ethereal Riffian, Legends

ethereal riffian legends

Ukrainian heavy rockers Ethereal Riffian make a pointed sonic shift with their Legends album (on Robustfellow), keeping some of the grunge spirit in their melodies as the eight-minute “Moonflower” and closer “Ethereal Path” show, but in songs like “Unconquerable” and the early salvo of “Born Again,” “Dreamgazer” and “Legends” and even the second half of “Kosmic” and “Pain to Wisdom,” they let loose from some of the more meditative aspects of their past work with a fiery drive and a theme of enlightenment through political and social change. A kind of great awakening of the self. There’s still plenty of “ethereal” to go with all that “riffian” in the intro “Sage’s Alchemy,” or the first half of “Kosmic” or the CD bonus “Yeti’s Hide,” but no question the balance has tipped toward the straightforward, and the idea seems to be that the electrified feel is as much a part of the message as the message itself. The only trouble is that since putting Legends out, Ethereal Riffian called it quits to refocus their energies elsewhere in the universe. Are they really done? I’m skeptical, but if so, then at least they went out trying new things, which always seemed to be a specialty, and on a note of directly positive attitude.

Ethereal Riffian on Thee Facebooks

Robustfellow Productions on Bandcamp

 

Parasol Caravan, Nemesis

parasol caravan nemesis

A second long-player behind 2015’s Para Solem, the eight-song/35-minute Nemesis is not only made for vinyl, but it’s made for rockers. Specifically, heavy rockers. And it’s heavy rock, for heavy rockers. Based in Linz, Austria, the double-guitar four-piece Parasol Caravan have their sound and style on lockdown, and their work, while not really keeping any secrets in terms of where it’s coming from in its ’70s-via-’90s modern take, is brought to bear with a clarity that seems particularly derived from the European heavy rock tradition. Para Solem was longer and somewhat fuzzier in tone, but the stripped down approach of the title-track at the outset and its side B counterpart, “Serpent of Time” still unfold to a swath of ground covered, whether it’s in the subdued instrumental “Acceptance” or “Transition,” which follows the driving “Blackstar” and closes the LP with a bit of a progressive metal edge. Even that has its hook, though, and that’s ultimately the point.

Parasol Caravan on Thee Facebooks

Parasol Caravan on Bandcamp

 

Golden Core, Fimbultýr

golden core fimbultyr

The title Fimbultýr translates to “mighty god” and is listed among the alternative names of Odin, which would seem to be who Oslo’s Golden Core have in mind in the leadoff title-track of their second album. Issued through Fysisk Format, it is not necessarily what one thinks of as “Viking metal” in the post-Amon Amarth or post-Enslaved context, but instead, the eight-song collection unfolds a biting modern sludge taking an edge of the earlier Mastodon lumber and bringing it to harshly-vocalized rollout. The 11-minute “Runatal” and only-seconds-shorter “Buslubben” are respective vocal points around which sides A and B of the release center, and each finds a way to give like emphasis to atmosphere and extremity, to stretch as well as pummel, and much to Golden Core‘s credit, they seem not only aware of the changes they’re presenting in their material, but in control of how and when they’re executed. The resulting linear flow of Fimbultýr, given the shifts within, isn’t to be understated as a victory on the part of the band.

Golden Core on Thee Facebooks

Fysisk Format on Bandcamp

 

Black Smoke Omega, Harbinger

Black Smoke Omega Harbinger

Harbinger may well be just that — a sign of things to come. The debut offering from Black Smoke Omega wraps progressive death-doom and gothic piano-led atmospherics around a thematic drawing from science-fiction, and while I’m not certain of the narrative being told by the Dortmund, Germany-based band, their method for telling it is fascinating. It’s not entirely seamless in its shifts, and it doesn’t seem like the band — seemingly spearheaded by multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jack Nier, though Ashley James (The Antiquity) plays guitar on “A Man without a Heart” and Michael Tjanaka brings synth/piano to “Kainé” — want it to be, but there’s no denying that by the time “Falling Awake” seems to provide some melodic resolution to the often-slow-motion tumult prior, it’s doing so by bringing the different sides together. It’s a significant journey from the raw, barking shouts on “The Black Scrawl” and the lurching-into-chug-into-lurch of “The Man without a Heart” to get there, however. But this, too, seems to be on purpose. How it all might shake out feels like a question for the next release, but Black Smoke Omega seem poised here to leave heads spinning.

Black Smoke Omega on Thee Facebooks

Black Smoke Omega on Bandcamp

 

Liquid Orbit, Game of Promises

Liquid Orbit Game of Promises

While on the surface, Liquid Orbit might be on familiar enough ground with Game of Promises for anyone who has encountered the swath of up-and-comers working in the wake of Blues Pills, the Bremen, Germany, five-piece distinguish themselves through not just the keyboard work of Anders alongside Andree‘s guitar, Ralf‘s bass, Steve‘s drums and Sylvia‘s vocals, but also the shifts between funk, boogie, and edges of doom that play out in songs like “Shared Pain” and “Please Let Her Go,” as well as the title-track, which starts side B of the Nasoni Records-issued vinyl with a highlight guitar solo and an insistent snare tap beneath that works to bring movement to what’s still one of Game of Promises‘ shorter tracks at six and a half minutes, as opposed to the earlier eight-minute-toppers on side A or the psych-prog finale “Verlorene Karawane,” which translates in English to “lost caravan” and indeed basks in some Mideastern vibe and backward-effects vocal swirl. Bottom line, if you go into it thinking you know everything you’re getting, you’re probably selling it short.

Liquid Orbit on Thee Facebooks

Nasoni Records website

 

Sun Below, Black Volume III

Sun Below Black Volume III

As the title hints, the name-your-price Black Volume III is the third EP release from Toronto’s Sun Below. All three have been issued over roughly a year’s span, and the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Jason Craig, drummer/backing vocalist Will Adams, bassist/backing vocalist Garrison Thordarson — who as far as I’m concerned wins this entire Quarterly Review when it comes to names; that’s an awesome name — and two have featured covers. On their debut, they took on “Dragonaut” by Sleep, and on Black Volume III, in following up the 12-minute nod-roller “Solar Burnout,” they thicken and further stonerize the catchy jaunt that is “Wires” by Red Fang. They’ve got, in other words, good taste. Black Volume III opens with “Green Visions” and thereby takes some righteous fart-fuzz for a walk both that and “Solar Burnout” show plenty of resi(n)dual Sleep influence, but honestly, it’s a self-releasing band with three dudes who sound like they’re having a really good time figuring out where they want to be in terms of sound after about a year from their first release, and if you ask anything else of Black Volume III than what it gives, you’re obviously lacking in context. Which is to say you’re fucking up. Don’t fuck up. Dig riffs instead.

Sun Below on Thee Facebooks

Sun Below on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: We Lost the Sea, Nebula Drag, Nothing is Real, Lotus Thief, Uncle Woe, Cybernetic Witch Cult, Your Highness, Deep Valley Blues, Sky Shadow Obelisk, Minus Green

Posted in Reviews on January 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Yesterday was marked by a decisive lack of productivity. I got there, don’t get me wrong, but it took friggin’ forever to make it happen. I’m obviously hoping for a different result today and tomorrow. You would think 10 records is 10 records, but some days it’s easy flowing, bounce from one to the next without any trouble, and some days you’re me sitting there wondering how many times you can get away with using the word “style” in the same post. Punishing. The saving factor was that the music was good. Amazing how often that serves as the saving factor.

Just today and tomorrow left, so let’s dive in. Lots of different kinds of releases today, so keep your ears and mind open.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

We Lost the Sea, Triumph and Disaster

we lost the sea triumph and disaster

There is plenty of heavy post-rock floating — and I do mean floating — around these days, spreading ethereal and contemplative vibes hither and yon, but none have the emotional weight brought to bear instrumentally by Sydney, Australia’s We Lost the Sea. Across their 65-minute 2LP, Triumph and Disaster (on Translation Loss), the six-piece band recount a wordless narrative of the aftermath of the end of the world through the eyes of a mother and child on their last day. It is a touching and beautiful flow of sentiment, regret and weight that comes through the wash of three guitars and synth, bass and drums, and though 2015’s Departure Songs (review here, discussed here) worked in a similar vein in terms of style if not story, these seven tracks and 65 minutes are wholly distinguished by a willful-seeming progression on the part of the band and a patience and poise of execution as they alternate between longer and shorter pieces that only underscores how special their work truly is. At least the apocalypse is gorgeous.

We Lost the Sea on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss store

 

Nebula Drag, Blud

nebula drag blud

Nothing against the progenitors of the form, but Nebula Drag seem with Blud to pull off the feat that Helmet never really could, bringing together a noise-rock derived dissonance of riff with a current of melody in the vocals and even moments of patience in the guitar to go along with the crunch of its more aggressive points. This inherently makes the Desert Records offering from the San Diego outfit a less outwardly intense affair than it might otherwise be, but songs like “Always Dying,” “Numb” and the closer “Mental” — as well as the album as a whole — are ultimately richer for it, and there’s still plenty of drive in opener “Dos Lados” and the shorter “Faces” and “What Went Wrong,” which arrive back to back on side B and lend the momentum that carries Nebula Drag through the remainder of the proceedings. It’s easy to hear to Blud superficially and pass it off as noise or heavy rock or this or that, but Nebula Drag earn and reward deeper listens in kind.

Nebula Drag on Thee Facebooks

Desert Records on Bandcamp

 

Nothing is Real, Pain is Joy

nothing is real pain is joy

Los Angeles oppressive and misanthropic noise project Nothing is Real manifested some of the harshest sounds I heard in 2019 on Only the Wicked are Pure (review here), and the just-months-later follow-up, Pain is Joy, reminds of the constant sensory assault under which we all seem to live. Across five extended tracks of increased production value — still raw, just not as raw — the band seems to be forming a coherent philosophical perspective in “Existence is Pain,” the guest-vocalized “Realms of Madness,” “Life is but a Dream,” “Pain is Joy,” and “We Must Break Free,” but if there’s a will to explain the punishment that is living, there’s not much by way of answer forthcoming in the sludgy riffing, grinding onslaught and surprising solo soar of “We Must Break Free,” instrumental as it is. Still, the fact that Pain is Joy allows for the possibility of joy to exist at all, in any form, ever, distinguishes it from its predecessor, and likewise the clearer sound and cogent expressive purpose. A focused attack suits Nothing is Real. I have the feeling it won’t be long before we find out where it takes the band next.

Nothing is Real on Thee Facebooks

Nothing is Real on Bandcamp

 

Lotus Thief, Oresteia

lotus thief Oresteia

If the name Oresteia isn’t immediately familiar, maybe “Agamemnon” will give some hint. San Francisco’s Lotus Thief, with their third full-length and second for Prophecy Productions, not only bring together progressive black metal, post-rock and drama-laced doom, but do so across eight-tracks and 38 minutes summarizing a 5th century Greek tragedy written in three parts. Ambitious? Yes. Successful? I’ll claim zero familiarity with the text itself, but for the eight-minute “Libation Bearers” alone — never mind any of the other immersive, beautiful wash the band emits throughout — I’m sure glad they’re engaging with it. Ambient stretches like “Banishment” and “Woe” and the barely-there “Reverence” add further character to the proceedings, but neither are “The Furies,” “Agamemnon,” “Sister in Silence” or subdued-but-tense closer “The Kindly Ones” lacking for atmosphere. Oresteia is grim, theatrical, stylistically forward-thinking and gorgeous. A perfect, perfect, perfect winter record.

Lotus Thief website

Prophecy Productions on Bandcamp

 

Uncle Woe, Our Unworn Limbs

Uncle Woe Our Unworn Limbs

Chugging, sprawling, and most of all reaching, the late-2019 debut LP, Our Unworn Limbs, from Ontario as-yet-solo-outfit Uncle Woe — composed, performed and recorded by Rain Fice — is one of marked promise, taking elements of modern progressive and cosmic doom from the likes of YOB‘s subtly angular riffing style and unfolding them across an emotionally resonant but still manageable 43-minute span. The stomp in “That’s How They Get You” is duly oppressive in following the opener “Son of the Queen,” but with the one-minute experiment “When the Night Fell Pt. 2” and jagged but harmonized “Mania for Breaking” ahead of 15-minute closer “Push the Blood Back In,” the record’s tumult and triumphs are presented with character and a welcome feeling of exploration. I would expect over time that the melodic basis and vocal presence Fice demonstrates in “Mania for Breaking” will continue to grow, but both are already significant factors in the success of that song and the album surrounding it, the first 20-plus minutes of which is spent mired in “Son of the Queen” and “That’s How They Get You,” as early proof of the sure controlling hand at the helm of the project. May it continue to be so.

Uncle Woe on Thee Facebooks

Uncle Woe on Bandcamp

 

Cybernetic Witch Cult, Absurdum ad Nauseam

cybernetic witch cult absurdam ad nauseam

Guitarist/vocalist Alex Wyld, bassist Doug MacKinnon and drummer Lewis May have processed the world around them and translated it into a riffy course of sci-fi and weirdo semi-prog thematics across Absurdum ad Nauseam. What else to call such a thing? At eight songs and 52 minutes, it stands astride the lines between heavy rock and doom and sludge in lengthier pieces like “The Cetacean,” “The Ivory Tower” and the finale “Hypercomputer Part 2,” yet when it comes to picking out discernible influences, one has to result to generalizations like Black Sabbath and Acrimony, the latter in the rolling largesse of “Spice” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” later on in the outing and the vocal effects there particularly, but neither is enough to give a sense of what Cybernetic Witch Cult are actually about in terms of the modernity of their approach and the it’s-okay-we-know-what-we’re-doing-just-trust-us vibe they bring as they rush through “Cromagnonaut” after the intro and “Hypercomputer Part 1.” I’m inclined to just go with it, which should tell you something in itself about the band’s ability to carry their listener through. They earn that trust.

Cybernetic Witch Cult on Thee Facebooks

Cybernetic Witch Cult on Bandcamp

 

Your Highness, Your Highness

Your Highness Your Highness

Heavy blues meets heavy metal on Your Highness‘ self-titled and self-released third album, collecting eight tracks that divide evenly across two sides of an LP, each half ending with a longer piece, whether it’s “Black Fever” (9:00) on side A or “Kin’s Blood” (14:14) on side B. Through these, in full-throttle movements like opener “Devil’s Delight” and “Rope as a Gift” and in nestled-in groovers like “The Flood” and “To Wood and Stone,” Your Highness don’t shy away from bringing a sense of atmosphere to their material, but maintain a focus on burl, gruffness and tonal weight, an aggressive undercurrent in a song like “Born Anew” — the riff to which is nonetheless particularly bluesy — being emblematic of the perspective on display throughout. It moves too fleetly to ever be considered entirely sludge, but Your Highness‘ 51-minute span is prone to confrontation just the same, and its ferocious aspects come to a head in satisfying fashion as the wash of crash pays off “Kin’s Blood,” shouts cutting through en route to a finish of acoustic guitar that lands as a reminder to release the breath you’ve been holding the whole time. Heavy stuff? Why yes, it is.

Your Highness on Thee Facebooks

Your Highness on Bandcamp

 

Deep Valley Blues, Demonic Sunset

Deep Valley Blues Demonic Sunset

Italy’s fervor for stoner rock is alive and well as represented in Demonic Sunset, the eight-song/34-minute debut full-length from Catanzaro’s Deep Valley Blues. Their sound works out to be more heavy rock than the desert one might imagine given the album cover, but that influence is still there, if beefed up tonally by guitarists Alessandro Morrone and Umberto Arena (the latter also backing vocals), bassist/vocalist Giando Sestito and drummer Giorgio Faini, whose fluid turns between propulsion and swing enable a song like “Dana Skully” to come together in its verse/chorus transitions. The penultimate nine-minute “Tired to Beg For” is an outlier among more straight-ahead songwriting, but they use the time well and close with the acoustic-led “Empire,” an encouraging showcase of sonic breadth to follow up on the start of “Lust Vegas” and a widening of the melodic range that one hopes Deep Valley Blues push further on subsequent releases. Centered around issues of mental health in terms of its lyrics, if somewhat vaguely, Demonic Sunset is a first LP that extends its focus to multiple levels while still keeping its feet on the ground in a way that will be familiar to experienced genre heads.

Deep Valley Blues on Thee Facebooks

Deep Valley Blues on Bandcamp

 

Sky Shadow Obelisk, The Satyr’s Path

sky shadow obelisk the satyrs path

You can toss a coin as to whether Sky Shadow Obelisk are death-doom or doom-death, but as you do, just keep an eye on the bludgeoning doled out by the solo-project of Rhode Island-based composer Peter Scartabello on his latest EP, The Satyr’s Path, because it is equal parts thorough and ferocious. Flourish of keys and melody adds a progressive edge to the proceedings across the five-track release, particularly in its two instrumentals, the centerpiece “Ouroboros” and the first half of closer “Shadow of Spring,” but amid the harnessed madness of “Chain of Hephaestus” — which from its lyrics I can only think of as a work song — and the one-two of “The Serpent’s Egg” and the title-track early on, those moments of letup carry a tension of mood that even the grand finish in “Shadow of Spring” seems to acknowledge. It’s been since 2015 that Scartabello last offered up a Sky Shadow Obelisk full-length. He shows enough scope here to cover an album’s worth of ground, but on the most basic level, I’d take more if it was on offer.

Sky Shadow Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

Yuggoth Records on Bandcamp

 

Minus Green, Equals Zero

Minus Green Equals Zero

Following up on a 2015 self-titled the material on Minus Green‘s sophomore album, Equals Zero, would seem to have at least in part been kicking around for a couple years, as the closer here, “Durial” (11:22) was released in a single version in 2016. Fair enough. If the other three cuts, opener “Primal” (9:58), “00” (11:51) and the penultimate “Kames” (10:08), have also been developed over that span, the extra rumination wouldn’t seem to have harmed them at all — they neither feel overthought to a point of staleness nor lack anything in terms of the natural vibe that their style of progressive instrumentalist heavy psychedelia warrants. The procession unfolds as a cleanly-structured LP with two songs per side arranged shorter-into-longer, and their sound is duly immersive to give an impression of exploration underway without being entirely jam-based in their structure. That is, listening to “00,” one gets the feeling it’s headed somewhere, which, fortunately it is. Where it and the record surrounding go ultimately isn’t revolutionary in aesthetic terms, but it is well performed and more than suitable for repeat visits. Contrary to the impression they might seek to give, it amounts to more than nothing.

Minus Green on Thee Facebooks

Kerberos Records website

 

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Quarterly Review: Dommengang, Ice Dragon, Saint Karloff, Witch Trail, Love Gang, Firebreather, Karkara, Circle of Sighs, Floral Fauna, Vvlva

Posted in Reviews on January 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

We begin Day Two of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. Snow on the ground fell overnight and the day ahead looks as busy as ever. There’s barely time to stop for sips of coffee between records, but some allowances must be made. It’s Tuesday after all. There’s still a lot of week left. And if we can’t be kind to ourselves in the post-holiday comedown of wintry gray, when can we?

So yes, pause, sip — glug, more likely — then proceed.

I don’t usually play favorites with these things, but I think today’s might have worked out to be my favorite batch of the bunch. As always, I hope you find something that speaks to you.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Dommengang, No Keys

dommengang no keys

Driving heavy psych and rock meet with spacious Americana and a suburbanite dreaminess in Dommengang‘s No Keys, the now-L.A. trio’s follow-up to 2018’s Love Jail (review here). It is a melting pot of sound, with emphasis on melting, but vocal harmonies and consistently righteous basslines like that in “Stir the Sea” act to tie the nine component tracks together, making Dommengang‘s various washes of tone ultimately the creation of a welcoming space. Early cut “Earth Blues” follows opener “Sunny Day Flooding” with a mindful far-outbound resonance, and the later “Arcularius – Burke” finds itself in a linear building pattern ahead of “Jerusalem Cricket,” which reimagines ’70s country rock as something less about nostalgia than forward possibility. Having come far on their apparently keyboard-less journey, from the breadth-casting verses of “Stir the Sea” to the doomy interlude “Blues Rot,” they end with “Happy Death (Her Blues II)” which sure as hell sounds like it has some organ on it. Either way, whether they live up to the standard of the title or not is secondary to the album’s actual achievements, which are significant, and distinguish Dommengang from would-be peers in atmosphere, craft and melody.

Dommengang on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records on Bandcamp

 

Ice Dragon, Passage of Mind

ice dragon passage of mind

Though they don’t do it nearly as often as they did between 2012 and 2015, every now and then Boston’s Ice Dragon manage to sneak out a new release. Over the last few years, that’s been a succession of singles, but Passage of Mind is their first LP since 2015’s A Beacon on the Barrow (review here), and though they’ll always in some part be thought of as a doom band, the unassuming organic psychedelia of “Don’t Know Much but the Road” reminds more of Chris Goss‘ work with Masters of Reality in its acoustic/fuzz blend and melody. The experimentalism-prone outfit have been down this avenue before as well, and it suits them, even as members have moved on to other projects (Brass Hearse among them), with the seven-minute “One of These Days” basing itself around willfully simplistic-sounding intertwining lines of higher and lower fuzz. There are moments of serenity, like closer “Dream About You” and “Sun in My Eyes,” but “The Sound the Rain Makes” is more of a blowout, and even the darker vibe of “Delirium’s Tears” holds hits melody as top priority. Hey guess what? Here’s an Ice Dragon album that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. I think it’s the 12th one.

Ice Dragon on Thee Facebooks

Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff, Interstellar Voodoo

Saint Karloff Interstellar Voodoo

Oslo’s Saint Karloff squash the high standard they set for themselves on their 2018 debut, All Heed the Black God (review here), with the 41-minute single-song long-player Interstellar Voodoo, basking in bluesy Sabbathian grandeur and keeping a spirit of progressive adventuring beneath without giving over entirely to self-indulgent impulses any more than one could as they careen from one movement to the next in the multi-stage work. With vinyl through Majestic Mountain Records, tape on Stoner Witch Records and CD through Ozium Records, they’re nothing if not well represented, and rightly so, as they veer in and out of psychedelic terrain in exciting and periodically elephantine fashion, still making room for classic Scandi-folk boogie on side A before the second half of the track stomps all over everything that’s come before it en route to its own organ-laced jammy meandering, Iommi shuffle and circa-’74 howl. As a new generation of doom rock begins to take shape, Saint Karloff position themselves well as earlier pursuers of an individualist spirit while still drawing of course on classic sources of inspiration. The first record was encouraging. The second is more so. The third will be the real tell of who they are as a band.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records webstore

 

Witch Trail, The Sun Has Left the Hill

witch trail the sun has left the hill

The jangling guitar strum in centerpiece “Lucid” on Witch Trail‘s The Sun Has Left the Hill (Consouling Sounds) has the indelible mark of classic rock and roll freedom to it. One wonders if Pete Townshend would recognize it, or if it’s too far blasted into oblivion by the Belgian trio’s aesthetic treatment across The Sun Has Left the Hill‘s convention-challenging 29-minute span, comprising seven tracks that bring together a heavy alternative rock and post-black metal vision marked by spacious echoes and cavern screams that are likewise tortured and self-assured. That is to say, there’s no mistaking the intent here. In the early intensity of “Watcher” or the shimmering and more patiently unfolding “Silent Running,” the Ghent three-piece mark out their stylistic terrain between bursts of noisy chaotic wash and clearheaded execution. The six-minute “Afloat” hisses like a lost demo that would’ve rewritten genre history some 25 years ago, and even in closer “Residue,” one can’t help but feel like Witch Trail are indeed looking to leave some lasting effect behind them with such forward-thinking craft. Sure to be a shock for those who take it on with no idea of what to expect.

Witch Trail on Thee Facebooks

Consouling Sounds website

 

Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game

love gang dead mans game

Shortly before Love Gang are halfway through the opening title-track of their debut album, Dead Man’s Game, just when you think you might have their blend of organ-laced Radio Moscow and Motörhead figured out, that’s when Leo Muñoz breaks out the flute and the whole thing takes a turn for the unexpected. Surprises abound from the Denver foursome of Muñoz (who also handles organ and sax), guitarist/vocalist Kam Wentworth, bassist Grady O’Donnell and drummer Shaun Goodwin, who find room for psychedelic airiness amidst the gallop of “Addiction,” which doesn’t seem coincidentally paired with “Break Free,” though the two don’t run together. Love Gang‘s 2016 self-titled EP (review here) had a cleaner production and less aggro throb, and there’s some of that on Dead Man’s Game in the peaceful melody of “Interlude,” but even seven-minute closer “Endless Road” makes a point of finishing at a rush, and that’s ultimately what defines the album. No complaints. Love Gang wield momentum as another element of inventive arrangement on this encouraging first long-player.

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

 

Firebreather, Under a Blood Moon

firebreather under a blood moon

‘Tis the stuff of battle axes and severed limbs, but it’s worth noting that three of the six inclusions on Firebreather‘s second LP and first for RidingEasy Records, Under a Blood Moon, have some reference to fire in their title. The follow-up to their brazen 2017 self-titled debut (review here) starts with its longest track (immediate points) in the nine-minute “Dancing Flames,” then follows immediately with “Our Souls, They Burn” and launches side B with the eponymous “Firebreather,” as the Gothenburg trio of Mattias Nööjd, Kyle Pitcher and Axel Wittbeck launch their riffy, destructive assault with urgency that earns all that scarred land left in its wake. The High on Fire comparison remains inevitable, perhaps most of all on “Firebreather” itself, but Firebreather have grown thicker in tone, meaner in approach and do nothing to shy away from the largesse that such a sound might let them convey, as “Our Souls, They Burn” and in the volume surges of closer “The Siren.” Under a Blood Moon is a definite forward step from the first LP, showing an evolving sound and burgeoning individuality that one hopes Firebreather continue to hunt down with such vigilance.

Firebreather on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

 

Karkara, Crystal Gazer

karkara crystal gazer

Presented through Stolen Body Records, the debut long-player from French trio Karkara purports to be “Oriental psych rock,” which accounts for an Eastern influence in the overall sound of its seven-track/41-minute run, but there are perhaps some geographical questions to be undertaken there, as “Camel Rider” and others show a distinctive Mideastern flair. Whatever works, I guess. At its core, Crystal Gazer is a work of psychedelic space rock, brought to bear with a duly open sensibility by guitarist/vocalist Karim Rihani (also didgeridoo), bassist Hugo Olive and drummer/vocalist Maxime Marouani as seemingly the beginning stages of a broader sonic adventure. That is to say, the stylistic aspects at play here — and they are very much “at play” — feel purposefully used, but like the foundation of what will be future growth on the part of Karkara as a unit. Will they progress along a more patient and meditative path, as “The Way” hints in some of its early roll, or will the frenetic winding of closer “Jedid” set their course for subsequent freakouts? I don’t know, but Karkara strike as a band who won’t see any point to standing still creatively any more than they do to doing so rhythmically.

Karkara on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

Circle of Sighs, Desolate

circle of sighs desolate

Information is limited on Circle of Sighs, and by that I primarily mean I don’t have any. They list their point of origin as Los Angeles, so there’s that, but as to the whos and whats, wheres and so on, it’s a mystery. Something tells me that suits the band, whose four-track debut EP, Desolate, gracefully executes a blend of melodic downerism with more extreme elements at play, melodic vocal arrangements offset by screams in the closing title-track after the prior rolling groove of “Burden of the Flesh” offered a progressive and synth-laden take on Pallbearer-style emotive doom. Acoustics, keyboard, and a clear use of multiple singers give Circle of Sighs‘ first outing a kitchen-sink feel, but one can only admire them for trying something new at their (presumed) outset, and the catchy chug of “Hold Me, Lucifer” speaks to more complex aesthetic origins than the simplistic subject matter might lead one to believe. The outlier is the penultimate nine-minute cut “Kukeri,” which broods across its first three minutes in a manner that would make Patrick Walker proud before unfolding the breadth of its lumber and arrangement, harmonies and screams and the first real showcase of more extreme impulses taking hold in its second half — plus strings, maybe — which “Desolate” itself will build upon after a bookending acoustic close. There’s some sorting out to do in terms of sound, but already they show a readiness to push in their own direction, and that’s more than it would seem reasonable to ask.

Circle of Sighs on Thee Facebooks

Circle of Sighs on Bandcamp

 

Floral Fauna, Pink and Blue

floral fauna pink and blue

Way out west, Chris Allison of the band Lord Loud is taking on psychedelic shimmer under the ostensible solo moniker of Floral Fauna, but the situation of the project’s 11-tracker debut LP, Pink and Blue is more complicated in personnel and style than that, melding fuzzy presence, classic ’60s surf-tone, rampant hooky melody and ready-to-go-anywhere-as-long-as-it-works pop experimentalism together in a steaming lysergic cauldron of neo-yourface-ism that’s ether blissed enough to tie funk and ancient R&B to cosmic flow together in a manner that feels like an utter tossoff, like, hey, yeah man, this kind of thing just happens all the time here. You know, no big deal on this wavelength. Mellow dreams in “Great White Silence,” a spacey ramble in “Velvet and Jade” and the echoing leadwork of “Red Anxiety” continue the color theme from the opening title-track, and the record caps with “Herds of Jellyfish,” which at last brings forward the vocal harmony that the whole album seems to have been begging for. Cool debut? Shit, man. It’s 36 minutes of straight-up psych joy just waiting to bring you on board. Legal psilocybin now.

Floral Fauna on Thee Facebooks

King Volume Records on Bandcamp

 

Vvlva, Silhouettes

vvlva silhouettes

There are a couple things you can figure on in this wacky universe, and one of them is that German imprint World in Sound knows what it’s doing when it picks up a classic heavy rock band. Silhouettes is the second long-player the label has released from woefully-monikered Aschaffenburg-based four-piece Vvlva, and indeed in the upfront boogie of “Cosmic Pilgrim” or the more progressive unfolding of pieces like “Tales Told by a Gray Man,” the centerpiece “Gomorrah,” or the longer “Night by Night/The Choir” and “Dance of the Heathens,” which seem to bring the two sides together, there’s enough vintage influence to make the case once again. Like the more forward thinking of their contemporaries, Vvlva have brought this modus into the present when it comes to production value and clarity, and rather than sound like it’s 1973, they would seem to be making 1973 sound like them. Whether one dives in for the early hooks in “Cosmic Pilgrim” or “What Do I Stand For?” or the fuzzy interplay between the solo and organ in the maddeningly bouncing “Hobos,” there’s plenty in Silhouettes to demonstrate the vitality and continued evolution of the style.

Vvlva on Thee Facebooks

World in Sound website

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Mondo Generator Premiere “Dead Silence” from Lost 2010 Album Shooters Bible

Posted in audiObelisk on December 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Even in its earlier catchiest moments like the flirting with melody that happens in “Invisible Like the Sky” or the end of “Burn a Bridge,” or in the later “Smashed Apart” and careening “Hang Me High,” Mondo Generator‘s threat of violence feels ever-present. That is, you never really know when Nick Oliveri is going to completely fly off the handle and start tearing his own throat out with vicious screams and willfully caustic punk rock. I don’t know how one goes about “losing” an album, but I’ve got two theories. Ready? Theory one: Drugs. Hey, dude’s got a reputation. Theory two: Timing.

Ever volatile, ever tempestuous, ever assaulting, Oliveri oversaw the recording of Mondo Generator‘s Shooters Bible — 13 tracks/39 minutes of pure fuckyou — in 2010, singing and playing bass and guitar on all the tracks including the Iggy Pop cover “Dog Food,” on which Happy Tom handles bass and Dave Grohl drums in place of Hoss. Consider though that as he might’ve been getting ready to release Shooters Bible, the semi-reunion Kyuss Lives! was beginning to take shape and began to tour after former Kyuss frontman John Garcia did his own run playing songs from the classic desert rockers and hooked up with drummer Brant Bjork. Garcia and Bjork also put their solo stuff on hold to invest in doing Kyuss Lives!, which should’ve been called Kyuss on all grounds except apparently legal ones and wound up being called Vista Chino as Oliveri departed the bassist role, going back to his various other pursuits: playing and touring acoustic, destroying all in his path with The Dwarves, the infamous SWAT team standoff, etc. I guess by the time it would’ve come around for release in, say, 2012 or 2013, Oliveri had already moved on.

mondo generator shooters bibleIndeed, Mondo Generator‘s Hell Comes to Your Heart came out in 2011 with much of the same material as Shooters Bible recorded or at least mixed to sound cleaner and more accessible and “Dog Food” and “Smashed Apart” were issued as a single, so maybe it was just a case of being dissatisfied at the time with how it all came out. How the hell should I know? One way or the other, Oliveri has been plunging into his clearly vast catalog of contributions, one-offs, demos and unreleased whatnots for Heavy Psych Sounds over the last few years, resulting on the N.O. Hits at All series, which is up to its fifth installment. Only fitting that the same imprint should unearth Shooters Bible, which brings the rawness of Oliveri‘s particular punk-metal ethic to the forefront and, in its centerpiece, “We are Mondo Generator,” lives up to that declaration — and no, the Motörhead reference isn’t lost — even as it’s essentially a solo work with just Oliveri and Hoss playing on it.

The miracle of Mondo Generator has always been the outfit’s willingness to push right up against the line of madness, and as much as Oliveri‘s legacy is inherently tied to the formative movement of Californian desert rock owing to his time in Kyuss and subsequently peak-era Queens of the Stone Age, and his influence has been considerable as a part of that, he’s always been the knife’s edge rather than the handle, and for all the laid back vibes that those around him had elicited, his trip is ever more aggressive and even in its moments of clarity retains the threat of immediate switch-flip violence. Shooters Bible is outlaw punk rock. However it was lost in the first place, in finding it, Mondo Generator give a showing of the maniac’s blood pumping at their heart.

Recently, the band — now the trio of Oliveri, guitarist Mike Pygmie and drummer Mike Amster — also unveiled a track from their upcoming LP, Fuck It (posted here). That album is out Feb. 21. Shooters Bible will follow on Feb. 28, and Mondo Generator will embark on an extensive European tour on Feb. 5, the dates for which you can find under the player below, on which you can hear the premiere of Shooters Bible opener “Dead Silence.”

As always, I hope you enjoy:

This is a gem! A rare pearl found in the deep sea, a MONDO GENERATOR 2010 lost album!!

Preorders: https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mondo-generator-shooters-bible

The vocals are ripped as usual, some songs are screamed but yet others feature melodic lines. The album has a punk-stoner sound with a desert rock attitude. All the songs are written by Nick Oliveri “ Rex Everything”.

The album features the cover of “Dog Food” by Iggy Pop with Dave Grohl on drums. Nick knows how to surprise us all the time! He picked this lost gem from his secret stash!

The artwork is by Bangalore.

Tracklisting:
01 DEAD SILENCE
02 INVISIBLE LIKE THE SKY
03 BURN A BRIDGE
04 WON’T LET GO
05 CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM HIGH (SCHOOL)
06 THIS ISN’T LOVE
07 WE ARE MONDO GENERATOR
08 SMASHED APART
09 *DOG FOOD
10 NIGHT CALLS
11 HANG ME HIGH
12 THE WAY I LET YOU DOWN
13 THE LAST TRAIN

Produced by Nick Oliveri

Drum tracks recorded at The Pink Castle Eagle Rock, Ca by Sir Brad Cook

Everything else recorded at Meth Lab Studios Salton Sea, Ca by Rex Everything

All songs – Drums by Hoss
Except Drums on “*Dog Food” by Dave Grohl

All songs – Guitars, Bass Guitar, Vocals by Nick Oliveri
Except Bass on “*Dog Food” by Happy Tom

All words and music written by Nick Oliveri
Except words and music on “*Dog Food” by Iggy Pop

The band will be also touring Europe during February and March 2020, including HPS Fests in Paris, Antwerp, London and Deventer.

*** MONDO GENERATOR EUROPEAN TOUR 2020 ***
05.02.2020 IT Roma-Traffic
06.02.2020 IT Pescara-Scumm
07.02.2020 IT North East Tba
08.02.2020 CH Winterthur-Gaswerk
13.02.2020 IT Ravenna-Bronson
14.02.2020 IT Cagliari-La Cueva Rock
15.02.2020 IT Parma-Splinter
16.02.2020 IT Cecina-Spazio Live Ritmi
17.02.2020 IT Torino-Blah Blah
18.02.2020 IT Erba-Centrale Rock
19.02.2020 FR Chambery-Le Brin Du Zinc
20.02.2020 CH Olten-Coq D’Or
21.02.2020 DE Siegen-Vortex
22.02.2020 DE Oldenburg-MTS Record Shop
23.02.2020 DE Hamburg-tba
24.02.2020 DE Berlin-Zukunft**
25.02.2020 DE Dresden-Chemiefabrik**
26.02.2020 AT Salzburg-Rockhouse
27.02.2020 AT Innsbruck-PMK
28.02.2020 IT Bozen-Pippo Stage
29.02.2020 DE Wiesbaden-Kreativefabrik
01.03.2020 DE Karlsrhue-Jubez
02.03.2020 DE Augsburg
03.03.2020 LU Luxembourg-tba
04.03.2020 FR Nantes-Le Ferraieur
05.03.2020 FR Paris-Glazart “Heavy Psych Sounds Fest”
06.03.2020 BE Antwerp-Trix “Heavy Psych Sounds Fest”
07.03.2020 UK London-Underworld “Heavy Psych Sounds Fest”
08.03.2020 NL Deventer-Burgerweeshuis “Heavy Psych Sounds Fest”
09.03.2020 UK Nottingham-Albert’s*
10.03.2020 UK Bristol-Exchange *
11.03.2020 UK Manchester-Star&Garter*
12.03.2020 UK Glasgow-Nice n’ Sleazy*
13.03.2020 BE Diksmuide-Music Club 4AD
14.03.2020 NL Rotterdam-Baroeg
w/t ALUNAH*
w/t DUEL**

Mondo Generator on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Heavy Psych Sounds on Thee Facebooks

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Sasquatch Recording New Album for 2020 Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

This past weekend, mostly Los Angeles-based heavy rockers Sasquatch entered Mad Oak Studios in Allston, Massachusetts, to begin recording the yet-untitled (so far as I know) follow-up to their 2017 LP, Maneuvers (review here). That album was issued, appropriately enough, by Mad Oak Records, as both the imprint and the studio are owned by drummer Craig Riggs, also vocalist for Roadsaw and Kind and drummer for White Dynomite — and obviously the not-L.A. contingent in the trio. Riggs, guitarist/vocalist Keith Gibbs and bassist Jason Casanova are working with producer Andrew Schneider, who mixed Maneuvers, on the recording, and they’ve finished basic tracks and are currently en route through guitar overdubs, vocals and additional keys courtesy of Dave Unger (also White Dynomite).

I was fortunate enough to see Sasquatch when they came through with Nebula in September (review here), and they were nothing less than on fire. Any rock and roll euphemism for holy-shit-that’s-awesome you want to apply, go ahead and apply it. The basic fact of the matter is they kicked ass. And having spent so much of this year on the road — not mention the time they were in Europe last year, touring the year before, and so on — their hitting the studio is nothing if not well-timed. I could go on and on about various aspects of how good this band are, but I’ll level with you: if you’re into rock and roll and you’re not looking forward to a new Sasquatch record, you’re fucking up. That’s all there is to it.

Their 2020 calendar already has a few confirmations. They’ll be back in Europe, for one thing, to play Sound of Liberation‘s 15th anniversary shows in Germany and Resurrection Fest in Spain, and one can only imagine a tour will be unveiled in the coming months. They’re also set for April 17 in Calgary at the Electric Highway Festival alongside Wo Fat and many others. Seems like it’ll probably be another busy year. All the better, then, they’ll be supporting a new album.

Here’s a pic of them with Schneider (L-R it’s RiggsGibbsSchneider and Casanova) enjoying some tasty-looking beverages to celebrate the completion of basic tracks — guitar, bass, drums — for the record:

sasquatch and andrew schneider

Basics are done! Time to celebrate with a round of Mai Tais! 10 songs. Moving on to guitar overdubs. Then vocals. And then Dave Unger comes in to add some keyboard flavor.

We are tracking right through this week. Hopefully done and ready to mix.

www.sasquatchrock.us
www.facebook.com/sasquatchrocks
http://store.sasquatchrock.us/
http://www.madoakrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MadOakRecords/
www.soundofliberation.com

Sasquatch, Live at Ace of Cups, Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 8, 2019

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Snail Recording Pink Floyd Cover “Fearless”; New LP in the Works

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

snail in studio

As 2019 starts to wind down, it’s time to start looking ahead at some of what next year will offer, and I can pretty much tell you right now that if a new Snail full-length actually materializes, there’s just about no damn way I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you to listen to it. Now then, the three-piece based in Los Angeles and Seattle aren’t quite recording the LP yet — that starts next month. But they’re currently tracking a take on Pink Floyd‘s “Fearless” as well as a new song called “Nothing Left for You” that will feature alongside it on a precursor single. Digital release seems to be how it’s going to happen, given the timing, but of course they’re open to a 7″, because why wouldn’t they be, should someone be up for releasing. Can’t imagine there wouldn’t be a taker there.

So we’re not to titles or release dates for the album yet. Hold your horses and I’ll do the best to do the same, but realizing it will have been five years since 2015’s Feral (review here) was released by the time the new one arrives, well, I think you’re almost justified in letting the anticipation run wild. It’s officially “a while in the making” as far as I’m concerned.

Bassist/vocalist/recording engineer Matt Lynch — pictured above with drummer/vocalist Marty Dodson this past weekend, while vocalist/guitarist Mark Johnson will track his parts in the Pacific Northwest — was kind enough to give an update on the proceedings:

We are recording Pink Floyd’s Fearless and a song I wrote that has lyrics partially inspired by Fearless [“Nothing Left for You”]. We have been wanting to cover Fearless for over 20 years now and feel the time is finally right. This will be released as an advanced digital single for the coming LP. Unless of course someone wants to put it out on a 7”, which would rule.

Currently no working title for the LP. We want to release this advance single for the new year, so early January. We are recording the rest of the basic tracks for the LP the second week of January. The material’s direction is similar to Feral in that it is varied with a wide range of sound and influences. There is melodic psych and heavy doom. Straight up Camaro stoner rock to galloping metal.

These two [tracks] Mark will do his parts from home in Seattle. The rest of the LP we will all do together at [Mysterious Mammal Recording/All Welcome Records] as much as possible with continued overdubs for Mark’s parts at home as usual.

SNAIL IS
Mark Johnson – Guitars, lead vocals, keys
Matt Lynch – Bass, keys, vocals
Marty Dodson – Drums, percussion, vocals

www.snailhq.com
www.facebook.com/snailhq
https://www.instagram.com/snail_hq/
www.smallstone.com
http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords
http://www.smallstone.bandcamp.com

Snail, “Nothing Left for You” drum recording

Snail, Feral (2015)

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